“We do not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.” (Carl Jung)
“You do not have to be good…
you only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves…” (Mary Oliver)
That is scary stuff, perhaps most especially to people who have descended into the moral squalor of addiction, or for those who have made themselves crazy trying to control someone else’s compulsive behavior as a co-dependent.
What could that mean, “You don’t have to be good”? What good could possibly be established, what enlightenment could we possibly uncover by awakening the darkness within?
I thought when I began in recovery that I would no longer suffer from all that self-centered darkness, and instead, I would naturally revert to the good guy I imagined I was – and had always been told I was. Turns out, I am just as self-centered in recovery as I was before – only now I am hip to it.
On a good day, I am awake to just how self-centered I can be instead of asleep and going about my business wreaking havoc under the guise of being a nice guy. You and I both know that when people are left alone and out of sight, and think that no one is watching – on the Internet for example – that they will often do bad stuff. When we draw the curtain on parts of ourselves, so we can pretend they do not exist, they become darker and more powerful within us. They get bigger and more demanding, and they get trickier.
Many of us who are in recovery think that only addicts and co-dependents have such unruly dark natures. But I hate to break the news: we are not special.
Every human being has a shadow, a darkness inside in which our walking wounded skulk around looking for nurture and power. The less we know about who and what is in there, the more influential and powerful that darkness is in subverting our thinking and behavior.
We need to awaken to the voices of the wounded within us.
We need to awaken to the selfish, malformed little creatures within our heart and mind whose hunger is voracious and whose concerns always point inward.
We need to awaken to those angels of our darker natures and both know and accept they will always be resident.
We cannot exterminate them, we cannot punish them, and we cannot hide or exile them. We must learn to love them, for they are us. All the parts of ourselves, all of us within this single creature loved by God, must be known, accepted, and held.
Some of those wounded little beggars will never get any better –
never ever find healing – but even so, we can have compassion on those parts of ourselves and treat them with empathy and dignity instead of hatred and scorn. That is how we manage their power in us.
“We do not have to be good…we only need to let the soft animal of our body love” the good, the bad and the ugly and keep them in the light of our awareness, rather than dangerously prowling behind some dark curtain.
And one last thing about making the darkness conscious: We cannot do it alone.
Listening to our dark angels requires the help of others – whether a therapist, spiritual director, soul-friend, self-help group, sponsor, or a gazillion 5th Steps – making the darkness conscious requires other people.
Listening to Dark Angels
by Cameron Miller
eels in dank corners
and you on thrones of wrong
and the in-between.
I unlock the door.
I am listening.
We might have been best of friends
if not for scuffling
over this body
fighting for the driver’s seat.
I am listening.
Brighter angels let me down
preening in the spotlight
ogling in the mirror.
I listened to them.
They still have an ear
but now I will listen to you.
I am listening.
This inscape of ours shifted,
land-shear and rockslides
We can’t keep marking
the same corners as our own.
I am letting you out.
If you start swinging your weight
pushing the weak
tricking the stupid
baiting the earnest
I’ll slam you down
then put you back
faster than a snakebite.
I am listening, for now.
Appearing “Poetry Quarterly” summer 2015 issue, published by Prolific Press.